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Ranger says he, Dorner were face-to-face

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By The Associated Press
Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 9:18 p.m.
 

LOS ANGELES — There was no question. The man standing before Rick Heltebrake on a rural mountain road was Christopher Dorner.

Clad in camouflage from head to toe and wearing a bulletproof vest packed with ammunition, the most-wanted man in America over the last week was just a few feet away, having emerged from a grove of trees holding a large, assault-styled rifle.

As teams of officers who had sought the fugitive ex-Los Angeles police officer since last week were closing in, Dorner pointed the gun at Heltebrake and ordered him to get out of his truck.

“I don't want to hurt you. Start walking and take your dog,” Heltebrake recalled Dorner saying during the carjacking on Tuesday.

The man, who wasn't lugging any gear, got into the truck and drove away. Heltebrake, with his 3-year-old Dalmatian Suni in tow, called police when he heard a volley of gunfire erupt soon after, and then hid behind a tree.

A short time later, police caught up with the man they believe was Dorner, surrounding a cabin in which he had taken refuge after crashing Heltebrake's truck 80 miles east of Los Angeles. A gunfight ensued in which one sheriff's deputy was killed and another wounded.

Then, as the gunfire ended, the cabin erupted in flames.

San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said on Wednesday that his deputies didn't intentionally burn down the cabin. His deputies shot pyrotechnic tear gas into the cabin, and it erupted in flames.

McMahon didn't say directly that the tear gas started the blaze, and the cause of the fire remained unclear.

A charred body was found in the basement, along with a wallet and personal items, including a California driver's license with the name Christopher Dorner, an official briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing probe.

McMahon said authorities have not positively identified the remains.

Heltebrake said Wednesday that he wasn't panicked in his meeting with Dorner because he didn't believe the fugitive wanted to hurt him.

“He wasn't wild-eyed, just almost professional,” he said. “He was on a mission.”

“It was clear I wasn't part of his agenda and there were other people down the road that were part of his agenda,” he said.

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